Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Restrict the terrorists

Following the recent attempt by a Nigerian to blow up a plane in the last hour of its flight, new travel restrictions have been introduced in the USA that would prevent passengers from getting out of their seats in the last hour of the flight. By some strange law or understanding, the terrorist would follow the same pattern again and again, and so this restriction would thwart their sinister designs.

You can be sure that 70 minutes before landing, the flight steward would announce to the passengers that the ’60 minute’ restriction would come on in 10 minutes and those who desire to use the washrooms may do so right then.

So, 75 minutes before landing, I would start worrying that the helpful announcement about the 10 minutes left for the restriction to come into force, would be heard in 5 minutes and immediately after that one of the passengers would get up and blow the plane to pieces.

In one of his essays, R.K.Narayan writes about a childhood experience of an all-night journey that he had to undertake by bullock-cart to reach his home town after alighting from a train in a station thirty miles away.

“The bullock carts moved in a caravan, winding along a dark, tree-shaded highway. Robbers were known to attack such caravans about ten miles from the railway station at midnight. The menace was warded off by a simple expedient. One of the cart-men walked ahead carrying a lantern and a staff and throwing bloodcurdling challenges to the night air. “Hey, keep away, prowlers, if you don’t want your skulls pulped… Who goes there? and so forth, the other drivers also sitting up and urging their bullocks with the loudest swear words. This was kept up till we passed a jutting rock beyond the twelfth milestone; the moment we crossed this spot the challenger went back to his cart, curled himself up in his seat and fell asleep, the entire caravan following this example. By some strange law or understanding, the robbers never seemed to step an inch beyond the jutting rock. It always seemed to me that the robbers were missing a fine opportunity to attack with all the cart-men fast asleep and the only wakeful person being myself as I tried to sleep on a pile of straw expecting any moment to be killed.”

Anti-dacoity or anti-terrorist measures have always been reactionary, I guess. The measures aim at pre-empting the method followed the previous time. If the attack happened last time near the twelfth milestone, step up your vigil as you near that spot. Once you cross that, there’s nothing to worry.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Vacuous and Verbose-12

Hindol Sengupta, Associate Editor, Bloomberg UTV, in an article in 'The Hindu', desperately tries to earn some brownie points by projecting himself as the sole surviving torchbearer of the “Wear Indian clothes” movement and on whose broad shoulders rests the responsibility of liberating the nation from the grip of Western wear.

"..Why are we uncomfortable about wearing Indian clothes?

Look around you, office after office is bereft of Indian clothes. In the age of industry, connectedness and entrepreneurship Indian clothes are rarely seen because they failed, or we failed to make them, office wear, and thereby, everyday wear.

Since most of us no longer wear Indian clothes to work, since the “corporate wardrobe” for some reason does not include Indian clothes, they have become occasional wear — costumes not clothes.

Why don't we wear Indian clothes to work? Why don't Indian news anchors, for instance, wear bandhgalas instead of suits? Even in news TV, Indian clothes are costumes to be donned to festive days. Udayan Mukherjee, the face of the markets, wears dazzling bandhgalason mahurat trading but not otherwise. Rajdeep Sardesai wears the occasional kurta but is usually in his unkempt cool, about-to- run-out-of-the-newsroom light shirts and dark trousers. Prannoy Roy also dons the odd bandhgala but seems far more comfortable in his impeccable suits.

Can you think of any men in business who regularly wears Indian clothes? If you can, tell me on hindol.sengupta@gmail.com . I can't."

First, this sanctimonious kurta-promoter must realise that so many aspects of our lives have been touched or influenced by Western habits and we have willingly embraced this change. If I wear a shirt or jeans, it is because I find them more convenient than going around in a dhoti or pyjamas. It is my choice. If Hindol wants to flaunt his ethnicity, that’s his choice. It is also open to this Hindol to start an office and ban entry of employees clad in anything resembling Western wear.

Second, this ignoramus seems to believe that all of India lives in Delhi and Mumbai, and the number of businessmen in India is limited to those that regularly appear on NDTV or Bloomberg channels. If this blinkered moron would care to look away from the TV screen or care to look beyond CII and FICCI or care to cross the Vindyas, he will be amazed to know that there is more to India than what he has seen. For starters, if he would come to Chennai (any place in the South would do. Chennai is because I happen to live here), I would gladly introduce him to Mr. Nalli Kuppuswami Chetty, who runs a 500-crore enterprise and is rarely seen in a lounge suit.

The Bushmen of Jalandhar

The movie “The Gods must be crazy” starts with a scene set in the Kalahari desert, where Bushmen live a blessed life without any knowledge or wants of the ‘civilised’ world beyond and limiting themselves to their primitive tools and implements. Into this world, an empty Coca Cola bottle is dropped from a plane above. Initially this is viewed as another gift from the Gods, but soon it becomes a ‘property’ to be owned and this leads to clashes and violence among this hitherto peaceful tribe.

In the Boing Boing Blog, Lisa Katayama seems to suffer from severe pangs of conscience and wants to know if she had unwittingly dropped a “Coke bottle” in the midst of a bunch of poor kids in a town ‘called’ Jalandher and sullied their technology-free lives with the temptation of electronics.

“A few years ago, I went on a trip to northern India to see the Dalai Lama. I traveled with a lawyer, a politician, a publicist, and a translator. One of the places we visited on the way up from Delhi was called Jalandhar — it's in the Punjab region and is home to a lot of sweatshops.

While we were there, we met a bunch of kids who lived with no electricity but told us that, when they grew up, they all wanted to be computer scientists. So we whipped out our cameras and iPods — the closest things we had on hand to real computers — and showed them how technology works. We figured they would enjoy it, and thought it could be a valuable experience that would stay etched in their minds as something to aspire to as they continued their studies.

Later, I found out that one of my travel mates thought what we had done was cruel. We had seduced these poor kids with luxuries they will probably never be able to afford, and sullied their pure, technology-free lives with the temptation of electronics.

So who's right? Did we ruin these kids for life or give them hopes for a better future? Does it not matter? Is there even a right answer to this question? What do you guys think?

Poor Lisa Katayama. Can some of you go across to the Boing Boing post and put her conscience at rest please?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Piracy Ltd.

Somalian pirates who have made tons of money through ransoms now have set up a ‘stock exchange’ of sorts to manage their hard-earned investments, says Reuters in this report.

"The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials ... we've made piracy a community activity” says one of the pirates. "Ransoms have increased in recent months from between $2-3 million to $4 million because of the increased number of shareholders and the risks," he said.

This is hardly an innovation, considering the origin of joint stock companies and exchanges.

The British East India Company (probably only the second company, after the Dutch East India Company, to be formed as a joint-stock company) while ostensibly chartered to carry on trade with India actually built its fortunes by plunder. Here is a description in page 253 of a book “The reign of King George III” by Robert Bisset, published in 1816.

"Thus have we seen a mercantile company, in less than ten years, acquire by war and policy, more extensive possessions, and a richer revenue, than those of several European monarchs. This was an epoch in the history of conquest. Nations of merchants had before conquered very extensive dominions, but this was a mere corporate body of private subjects. The principles on which the servants of this company of merchants proceeded were formed in a great degree by the habits and conditions of the masters. The leading object was gain; ambition was only secondary and instrumental: power and dominion were esteemed merely as the means of profit.

Where the Romans carried their arms, they sought warlike glory, victory, and the splendor of triumph, as well as the gains of plunder ; they took their superstition with them : and from the conquered countries made additions to their gods, as well as to their treasury. The Spaniards, the creatures of gloomy bigotry, carried to Mexico their zeal for making converts, as well as for acquiring silver and gold. These and many other victors were actuated by various passions; but the British conquerors in India directed their pursuits to one object exclusively, the acquisition of money. They considered, in every transaction of war, peace, or alliance, what money could be drawn from the inhabitants.

In their modes of exaction from the feeble natives, they observed the systematic regularity of commercial habits; they made bargains; and for the money received, stipulated value delivered. They pillaged, not with the ferocity of soldiers, but with the cool exactness of debtor and creditor. Instead of saying to the sovereign of Hindostán, "You have a very rich territory, and we must have a great part of the product," (which might have appeared the language of robbers,) they adopted a mercantile mode: " We shall collect your revenue for you, reserving to ourselves " only eighty per cent, for factorage :" this was the spirit of their agreements. Before they planned aggression, they calculated the probable proceeds, the debts that they might extinguish, and the addition, on the balance of accounts, which they might make to the sum total.

They considered war with the natives, merely as a commercial adventure: by so much risk encountered, a certain quantity of blood spilt, and a certain extent of territory desolated, great sums were to be gained. In all their intercourse, however, with the natives, in the plans which they devised, and the efforts which they employed for the accumulation of wealth, they manifested the immense superiority of the British character with a rapidity of success, that brought an unprecedented influx of opulence to this country, and effected a considerable change in the sentiments, habits, and pursuits of Englishmen."

Vacuous and Verbose-11

Chetan Bhagat has an op-ed titled “Indian Institute of Idiots’ in the TOI in which he not only identifies the fundamental flaws in the Indian education system but goes on to proffer amazingly simple and elegant solutions.

The first problem, as he brilliantly explains, is that there is a serious short supply of good college seats. He then gives an awesome solution that this shortage can be overcome by the simple expedient of building more colleges and more Universities and inducting more professors and teachers. Voila, there will be more seats! He provides an astoundingly splendid example: The Govt can easily buy up acres and acres of land on the outskirts of Gurgaon and create a University that is four times the present size of Delhi University.

Where will the Govt find the funds for such Universities? Here, Chetan Bhagat excels himself. When funds can be found for miles and miles of malls, why not for these colleges? Duh?

The second problem, as he enlightens us, is to do with the course content. It is quite irrelevant in today’s world, he pinpoints wonderfully. Unlike other critics who merely keep cribbing about the system, Chetan has an extraordinary solution for this problem, one that no one has thought of before - which is that the HRD Minister must take note and do something.

For this insightful piece, I am sure Chetan deserves every rupee that TOI would have paid him. What an eye-opener. What breathtaking ideas to radically overhaul the moribund system.

After his stint at IIT, Chetan seems to have become a real doer. As the crossword buffs would say, an anagram of a 5-letter word formed by adding IIT to ‘do’, perfectly describes him.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's a record anyway.

At the end of Day 2 of the third test match against Sri Lanka:

Sehwag set to become the first batsman in Test history to score three triple hundreds!!!!!! (source)

At the end of day 3 of the third test match against Sri Lanka:

“Along with two triple hundreds, I have a 293. Nobody has done that” said Sehwag after getting out early in the day. (Source)

Vacuous and Verbose- 10

“Inflation has gone up because prices of food articles have gone up” the Finance Minister Mr Pranab Mukherjea told reporters today. (source)

I am reminded of:

1) The standard reason for delay as given by airlines : "The departure is delayed on account of late arrival of incoming aircraft” . As if the airline is not responsible for that.

2) A statement attributed to Calvin Coolidge: “When people lose jobs, unemployment results”. What Pranab is saying is similar “When food prices go up, inflation results. Don’t blame me or the Congress party for that”.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why do I travel?

I accept my frequent traveling as something that is part of my job and for which I get paid my salary. I travel because, if I don’t, my boss will kick my ass. So, I don’t need to ask myself metaphysical questions such as “Why do I travel?”

But Jonah Lehrer of Frontal Cortex, being a writer can afford to ask the question, “Why do we travel?” and then proceed to answer the question as well

Travel is a basic human desire. But, is this collective urge to travel - to put some distance between ourselves and everything we know--still a worthwhile compulsion?

The good news, at least for those of you reading this while stuck on a tarmac eating stale pretzels, is that pleasure is not the only consolation of travel. In fact, several new science papers suggest that getting away—and it doesn't even matter where you're going--is an essential habit of effective thinking. It's not about vacation, or relaxation, or sipping daiquiris on an unspoiled tropical beach: it's about the tedious act itself, putting some miles between home and wherever you happen to spend the night.

The reason such travels are mentally useful involves a quirk of cognition, in which problems that feel "close"--and the closeness can be physical, temporal, or even emotional--get contemplated in a more concrete manner. As a result, when we think about things that are nearby, our thoughts are constricted, bound by a more limited set of associations. While this habit can be helpful--it allows us to focus on the facts at hand--it also inhibits our imagination. Consider a field of corn. When you're standing in the middle of the field, surrounded by the tall cellulose stalks and fraying husks, the air smelling faintly of fertilizer and popcorn, your mind is automatically drawn to thoughts that revolve around the primary meaning of corn, which is that it's a plant, a cereal, a staple of Midwestern farming.

But now imagine that same field of corn from a different perspective. Instead of standing on a farm, you're now in the midst of a crowded city street, dense with taxis and pedestrians. (And yet, for some peculiar reason, you're still thinking about corn.) The plant will no longer just be a plant: instead, your vast neural network will pump out all sorts of associations. You'll think about high-fructose corn syrup, obesity, and Michael Pollan; you'll contemplate ethanol and the Iowa caucus, those corn mazes for kids at state fairs and the deliciousness of succotash, made with bacon and lima beans. The noun is now a web of tangents, a loom of remote connections.

…We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.

Now, I know why I travel. It removes the cobwebs from my mind. It makes me the creative genius that I am.

Madness is well distributed.

In his column in the Hindustan Times ( link not up. Read page 8 of e-paper), Vir Sanghvi recalls a story narrated by his Professor, on the negotiations between the Nato and the Soviet Bloc at the height of the Cold War,

Apparently, Kissinger had a bright idea to convince his Russian counterpart that President Richard Nixon was unstable. Nixon drank late into the night, flew into rages, went down on one knee at the Oval to listen to the voice of Jesus, Kissinger would point out. In simple words, Nixon was a madman. Who knows, Kissinger would hint to the Russians, if mad Nixon was provoked, he might press the red button and nuke Moscow. This tactic, explains Sanghvi, proved to be a very effective negotiating ploy and helped keep the Russians in check.

Sanghvi then argues that Pakistan has been using this Madman theory to perfection against the Indians for decades. Years after she quit power, Benazir admitted to Sanghvi that the militants were pushed into India by the ISI, but that she couldn’t control them. Nawaz Sharif would blame the military for the Kargil invasion. Musharraf would wash off his hands and say that it was the mujahideen factor. So, each time an ‘uncontrollable madman’ was invoked and held responsible for any misadventure.

Whereas, says Sanghvi, whenever an Indian leader talks to Pakistan, he acts like a statesman showing flexibility and a willingness to go the extra mile. There is no passing of the buck; no third party is brought into the picture.

This is where I don’t agree with Sanghvi. While we may not have used the Madman theory against Pakistan, Indian prime ministers have routinely used Pakistan as a bogey- the Madman, if you will- to create a perception of a serious threat to the nation and to divert attention from internal issues. One cannot downplay the threat, but if we let that dominate our policies and relationships with the rest of the world- as we have- we are plain mad. Madness is not a monopoly of the Pakistanis. It is well spread on both sides of the border.

As a metaphor on Indo-Pak madness, I recall this hilarious story called “Toba Tek Singh” (I found the reference in one of the essays of Salman Rushdie) by Hasan Munto. It describes the scene in a lunatic asylum near the frontier, at the time of Partition. A decision has been taken that the lunatics too must be partitioned, Indian lunatics to India, Pakistani lunatics to Pakistan. Utter confusion prevails as the exact location of the frontier is not known, nor the places of origin of insane persons. But the partition of lunatics had to be done anyway. A character called Bashan Singh who keeps muttering nonsense such as "Upar di gur gur di annexe di dhiyana di mung di daal of di Pakistan and Hindustan of di dar fatay mun!" reminds me quite a bit of the speeches delivered by our politicians from time to time..

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Ubiquitous, unquitting, Amitabh

The omni-presence of some of the film personalities – Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan to name two- affects me profoundly. I feel haunted, hounded and hunted all the time.

Take Amitabh. He stares at you 24 x 7 and leaps out of TV channels ( as part of the regular programme content, and on commercial time as well) newspaper ads, hoardings, posters, airport screens, railway station walls, bus stop shelters and even peanut packets that are sold near traffic junctions. You simply cannot avoid his mug. Like Sinbad’s Old man, you can never be rid of him.

In the last 40 years, I am sure that he has taken on every conceivable role- cook, gardener, driver, priest, teacher, saint, barber, doctor, gangster, tailor, policeman, millionaire, billionaire, coolie, lawyer, old man, blind child, deaf transvestite, dumb woman, sick patient, ministering angel, devout Muslim, pious Hindu, true Christian, brave Sikh – you name it. And, the best part is that in each of these roles, he has managed to look like, talk like and walk like Amitabh Bachchan. His mannerisms remain the same, regardless of which role he plays.

Ha, you tell me, I ought to see the movie “Paa”, where one doesn’t get to see Amitabh at all. Such is the brilliance of his acting that you only see the cute character called Auro that he has played.

If one can’t see him in the movie, then why did they have to cast Amitabh in that role? Heh? It might have been anybody passing off as Amitabh playing the part of Auro without looking like Amitabh.

Update 13/12/09: Sudhish Kamath writes, in his review of the film "Paa".

"You cannot make a film about the child being the father of man by simply casting the father as the child, no matter how brilliant the actor is. More so if the point is to show that the child is the father of the man.

….Auro is supposed to be 12-year-old child whose aging process is accelerated. One would then expect to see a child who looks like a frail old man and NOT an old man behaving like a child. There’s a fine line between the two and this is why Amitabh Bachchan as Auro is a huge casting mistake. How poignant and credible it would have been if it were Darsheel Safary (or someone his age) made to look scarily old with no eyebrows or hair and scaly skin!

This takes us back to why Balki made this film. It wasn’t because he wanted to tell us a story about a Progeria patient. He wanted to see Big B play son to Junior Bachchan. That was it. Everything else, including the make-up stunt, was an excuse to arrive at this casting coup even if it means that Bachchan is going to look like half a Zoozoo!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Vacuous and verbose - 9

Q: . Guruji, what is the purpose of my life?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: You are very lucky. So many people live life never asking this question. Nurture it. You have this question in your heart, you are very lucky. I will tell you one thing. One who knows the answer to this question will not tell you and one who tells you does not know.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Madras system

In the year 1786 the Court of Directors of the East India Company sent out orders to Madras, that a seminary-should be established there for the education and maintenance of the orphans and distressed male children of the European military

The superintendence of this asylum was undertaken by Dr. Bell, who was one of the directors of the institution, one of the ministers of St. Mary's, and one of the chaplains of Fort St. George

The proposed institution was limited at first to the support of an hundred orphans: half the expense was defrayed by the Company and half by voluntary subscriptions, with the Madras government providing support in the form of land and building at Egmore.

Dr. Bell, realizing that there would be a paucity of teachers came up with the innovation that the ‘best among the students would serve as teachers for the rest”. The scheme as explained by him (source : Mutual tuition and Moral discipline, manual of instructions for conducting schools through the agency of the scholars themselves, published in 1823)

1. The entire Economy of a Madras School is conducted by a single master, or superintendent, through the agency of the scholars themselves. For this purpose,
2. The school is arranged into forms, or classes, each composed of members, who have made a similar proficiency; and are occasionally paired off into tutors and pupils, the superior being tutors to the inferior boys.
3. The scholar ever finds his level, by a constant competition with his fellows, and rises and falls in his place in the class, and in the forms of the school, according to his relative proficiency. For the equalization of the classes, in point of proficiency, the scholar, who has held a high place in his class for some time, is promoted to the class above, and is placed at the bottom; but if, on trial, he proves unequal to his new class-fellows, he must revert to his former class; and the boy who fails, for some time, after due warning and trial, in saying his daily lessons, is degraded to the class below, and is placed at the head; but if he proves superior to his new associates, he then resumes his former class, on a new trial.
4. To each class are attached a teacher, and, if numerous, an assistant teacher; who are perpetually present with their class, and are responsible for its order, behaviour, diligence, and improvement. In large schools, an usher or superior teacher is set over every three or four classes, and a head usher over the whole.
5. Monitors are appointed to the charge of the books, slates, pencils, paper, pens, iuk, and of the various departments and offices of the school-room.
6. In charity, free, or other schools, supported by endowment, or voluntary contribution, there often presides over all, as in old times, a superintendent, or chaplain, or one of the trustees, directors, or visitors, whose province is to inspect, regulate, and control the scholastic machine in all its departments.
7. The daily lessons are marked in the teacher's books: and Registers are kept of admission; and of the progress of each class, and of the relative and individual proficiency of each scholar.
8. If any gross misdemeanor should occur, the accused is tried by a jury of his peers, and the sentence is inflicted, mitigated, or remitted, at the discretion of the superintendent, visitor, or master. But, when the laws of the school are duly administered, there will hardly ever be occasion for this instrument of discipline.

Such, was the scheme of a Madras School, wherein the” System hinges entirely on the tuition by the scholars themselves and in which every scholar finds for himself his level, and unceasingly rises and falls in his place in the form, and in the ranks of the school, according to his relative performance.”

Dr Bell’s system (and the Lancasterian system which had almost the same elements) became quite popular in the nineteenth century throughout the British empire. Gradually, the Madras system was replaced by other systems which advocated the importance of trained teachers.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Death by chocolate

Australian scientists have confirmed what many chocoholics already know, that "comfort food" can reduce stress. Eating foods rich in fat and sugar can alter the chemical composition of the brain and reduce anxiety.

But, as we all know, eating foods rich in fat and sugar can lead to clogged arteries and death.

So, you can either deny yourself the comfort food and live long, though anxiously; or indulge in these goodies and die early but happily. Which do you prefer?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mr Shadow.

At the end of the first day’s play against Sri Lanka,

The in-form Rahul Dravid was on a serene unbeaten 85 of pleasing drives. Maestro Tendulkar is on 20” reports The Hindu

Dravid needs just 15 runs to complete his 28th century while Master Blaster will look forward to notch up his 44th ton” reports the Times of India.

Notice the epithets Maestro and Master Blaster for Tendulkar, while Dravid gets a clinical description of ‘in-form’. Also, even when Tendulkar is on 20, he is already well on his way to his 44th ton.

Siddhartha Mishra wrote a piece titled, “ The curse of being Rahul Dravid”, in the Indian Express, in which he asked:

"This batsman for all seasons presents an inarguable claim to greatness. And yet the acclaim accorded to Rahul Dravid has, more often than not, been restrained rather than spontaneous, limited rather than overwhelming. Why?

Juxtaposition of the ‘titles’ so generously used to glorify the leading Indian batsmen of this generation further accentuates the ‘great divide’. Tendulkar is ‘Master Blaster’ or ‘Tondulkar’; Sehwag is ‘Nawab of Najafgarh’; Ganguly is ‘Prince of Kolkata’; Laxman is ‘Very Very Special’; and attendant upon Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni are nicknames ringing with mass affection — Yuvi and Mahi. In Dravid’s case, the unvarying descriptions used — ‘The Wall’ and ‘Mr Dependable’ — seek to stereotype rather than highlight the batsman’s unique range and reek of condescension.

In the Indian context, there is inescapable evidence that cricket is religion and Tendulkar is god. But few human beings have reached Dravid’s levels of accomplishment. Is only a certain type of batsman worthy of mass adulation? Is hero-worship to be denied to Dravid because it has been his destiny to play in the same era, the same team as another great batsman?"

The answer actually lies in the fact that much of the English media is concentrated in Mumbai and Delhi. And it is not unnatural that those achievers who are based in these cities when they are off-duty tend to get the highest visibility. If you are successful and based in Mumbai, you can’t remain aloof. You will soon get drawn into the circuit, however introverted you might be. And where celebrities tend to show up, can the media be far behind?. It is a symbiotic relationship.

One would think that with their large fleet of vehicles, a slew of reporters and a network that spans the entire country, the TV channels can access any personality in any city in a jiffy. Surprisingly, the channels take the path of least resistance and focus on stories that unfold within a radius of 20 km from their studios in Mumbai or Delhi. That's why a Lata Mangeshkar completing 50 years of singing, 80 years of age, 50000 songs, etc will get enormous publicity, while an equally prolific S.P.Balasubramanian completing 40 years in filmdom and 40000 songs ( I am just rattling out a number; don’t check this somewhere and hang me) will not even get a passing mention. The TV channel can ask a reporter to hop across to Lata’s residence and interview her, whereas reaching SPB in Chennai is far too much of a hassle.

Every day, Tendulkar will be shown crossing and celebrating some milestone or another ( 13000 runs in Test cricket, 30000 runs in either form of cricket, 20 years of Test cricket, 150 test matches, 600 matches in all, 34th birthday, 35th birthday, 36th birthday, etc. While Dravid will be left severely alone. Maybe he prefers it this way too.

Update 26/11/09 : The 2nd day started with Dravid on 85 and Tendulkar on 20. This is how the TOI reports in today's edition:

There was a big crowd anticipating greater deeds from Sachin Tendulkar. But the little master did not oblige them and departed after making 40. Luckily for them, Dravid was there to provide the entertainment as he not only went past Allan Border's mark of 11,174 to become the fourth-highest run-getter in Tests, but also collected his 28th century.

So, even when Dravid is only 15 runs away from his century, the crowd is supposed to be anticipating only Tendulkar's century which is a mere 80 runs away. And when he gets out on 40, it is reported that "Little Master did not oblige them".

Sunday, November 22, 2009

India, the richest country on 31-12-09

If you can stick around till the year 2109, you can have the satisfaction of seeing India occupy the No. 1 slot in terms of GDP, surpassing that of China's and that of the USA.

Scott Sumner makes out a compelling case for India in his post, a response to Tyler Cowen’s request to state his most absurd belief. . “Don’t let images of Mother Theresa and Slumdog Millionaire cloud your judgment” he urges. “ The Indian economy has a lot of growth ahead of it”

Way to go, India.

Get a life

“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it” observed Ellen Goodman.

That’s the quote that I remembered when I read this interview with an ‘economist and a work-life balance expert”, in Business.in.com:

“Back in 2006 – a time of boom and ebullient profits -- we completed a study of what we call ‘extreme jobs’: high-echelon jobs that have gargantuan demands but also gargantuan rewards. At the time, there was a kind of equilibrium in place, because these ‘extreme workers’ were working really hard – on average 73 hours per week -- but at the same time, they were being extremely well paid. They also had lot of status and power, which can be very appealing, and often they were very stimulated and kind of ‘turned on’ by the challenges of their work. Whether they were developing a new video game, running an oil rig or developing a new derivatives product, the odds are that today’s knowledge workers are very self-actualized through their work. So despite the massive time commitment, the rewards of these jobs very much outweighed the burdens. As a result, people were opting into these jobs and enjoying them.

Fast forward to 2008 and many of the ‘extreme’ burdens have actually increased: people may be working even longer hours, dealing with even more responsibility and a depleted team, but on the other hand, there is no bonus coming their way and they have to face job insecurity. The cost-benefit calculation has totally shifted around these jobs in the last two years, leading to what we call a ‘dysfunctional talent model’."

So, what this expert is telling us is that working 73 hours or longer is quite normal. It gets dysfunctional and stressful only when you don’t get proportionate rewards.

Working 80 hours a week means 11.5 hours a day if you count Sundays or 13.5 hours a day, if you don’t work on Sundays. There are many who have to work this hard to eke out a living, but if someone chooses to work such long hours on a sustained basis so as to grab a fat bonus, he/she would do well to read Ellen Goodman’s quote again before he/she drops dead.

The basic question one needs to ask is: “Is ‘work’ the sole purpose of one’s existence? Or is ‘work’ a means to lead a more comfortable and satisfying life outside working hours? Or is there no distinction between the two, they being intertwined?

In one of his travel stories called. “ The crocodiles of Yamoussoukra”, V.S.Naipaul decribes life in a village deep in the wet forests of Ivory Coast, where European customs brought in by expatriates interfered with local tribal beliefs and convictions. But several Africans had learnt to live with the duality, There was the world of the night and the world of the day. The world of the night consisted of rituals, dancing, witchdoctors, drums, etc. The world of the day could involve work in a European setting – hotels, factories, etc. For the African, observes Naipaul, the world of the day was an artificial and restrictive one. The true life was there in the mysteries of the village at night. The work during the day with all its false, arbitrary rituals was the charade. So, an African who could be a senior executive in a big company, would be longing to get back into the 'real world of night" and could slip into it comfortably.

That’s what we need to ask ourselves. Which is the ‘real’ part of our lives and which is the charade? There has to be a dividing line. If spending 80 hours a week at ‘work’ is the ‘real purpose’ of our existence, then the rest of what life offers us is only a charade. Conversely, you can have a real life outside working hours, if you can view the time spent at work as an elaborate charade.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Appreciating art

What is it about M.F.Husain’s art that enables him to rake in millions? I can’t make out head or tail of his paintings and pull my hair trying to figure out what he is trying to portray. I recall that R.K.Narayan too had had some difficulty in understanding this artist. In one of his articles after his visit to the USA, Narayan had written:

“My next halt was at the Indian consulate where M.F.Husain was exhibiting his latest paintings among which a portrait of myself was included. I had given him a sitting the previous week, but when I saw the portrait, I remarked that I didn’t look like myself. He had smiled at my lack of taste and replied that I wouldn’t know my real self. I left it at that.."

I decided to do some reading on ‘abstract art’ and learn some fundas. Here is a site that provides a fair bit of history and information.

Why do we create art? “asks Harley Hahn and then proceeds to answer the question.

There are a number of straightforward reasons why human beings create art: to make a decoration, to tell a story, to capture or preserve an image, or to illustrate an idea. However, there is another, more subtle, but far more important reason why art is important to us.

The need to reach inside ourselves and manipulate our unconscious feelings is universal. We all do it to some degree, although most of the time we are blind to what we are doing.

That is where art comes in.

One of the purposes of art is to allow us indirect access to our inner psyche. Great art affords a way to get in touch with the unconscious part of our existence, even if we don't realize what we are doing. In this sense, the role of the artist is to create something that, when viewed by an observer, evokes unconscious feelings and emotions.

The reason abstract art has the potential to be so powerful is that it keeps the conscious distractions to a minimum. When you look at, say, the apples and pears of Cézanne, your mental energy mostly goes to processing the images: the fruit, the plate, the table, and the background. However, when you look at "Lavender Mist", you are not distracted by meaningful images, so virtually all of your brain power is devoted to feeling. You can open yourself, let in the energy and spirit of the painting, and allow it to dance with your psyche.

Of course, this only works if you cooperate with the artist. His job is to create a painting that is rendered so skillfully that, when you look at it, what you see actually changes what you feel at an unconscious level. Your job is to clear your conscious mind of thoughts and preconceptions in order to allow yourself to be influenced by what you are seeing. This means that, if you are to truly appreciate a work of art, you must be willing to let yourself go, to put yourself in the hands of the artist, so to speak, and let him take you wherever he wants.

Much of the time, this partnership fails, sometimes because the artist is simply not skillful enough; often because the person looking at the painting does not know how to truly appreciate it.

It is unfortunate that when I look at M.F.Husain’s painting, I don’t know how to truly appreciate it. From RKN’s admission, I can, at least, take solace in the fact that I am in illustrious company. I think both of us are too cynical and refuse to let the artist penetrate our inner selves and manipulate our unconscious feelings. I need to let myself go, put myself in the hands of the artist and let him take me wherever he wants.

Meat without killing

Is fish to be considered as meat? If not, why not? Why do Catholics permit fish but not chicken or red meat during Lent?

(As a Bengali friend,who is a piscivorous vegetarian, explained to me, “Cows, chicken and lamb, you need to kill. Fish, you don’t kill. Take it out of the water and it will die by itself !)

Now comes a report that it might be possible to produce meat without any livestock. Technology will soon advance to the point where it will be possible to grow meat inside labs, without the need for the actual living things that wear it for some time before being killed for it, say scientists. ( Source).

So, tell me, can vegetarians be convinced to eat this form of grown meat? After all there is no killing involved.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vacuous and Verbose-8

"The President quoting the emphasis on the rural development by the father of nation Mahatma Gandhi said he also gave priority for the spread of awareness among the villagers about the importance of Sanitation…. Highlighting the need of toilet facilities in schools, anganwadies, the President said the need of the hour was to give prominence to the role of women in villages….. Since more than 70% of our countrymen resides in rural areas, it becomes important to better their lives, make them aware about sanitation, arrange for their education, Health, clean drinking water, provision of electricity, informing them for the eradication of evil practices and to make the environment pollution free as the key to all round rural development (Source).

A speech solemnly begun by invoking the name of Gandhi, solemnly delivered, solemnly heard and solemnly reported in the papers the next morning. The President puts up an impressive wish list – good health, clean drinking water, electricity, pollution free environment, women empowerment – that would result in rural development, but does not feel it necessary to state how all these will be achieved, by who and by when.

Hundreds of such news items appear every day, each filled with such platitudes and clichés , and blowing out hot air. What purpose they serve, nobody knows.

Update 19/11/09 : The President inaugurates the silver jubilee celebrations of Indira Gandhi Open University and releases this hot air balloon:

The importance of education cannot be over emphasized. It is a very powerful tool for empowering people and for giving them self-dignity. It becomes even more important for a nation like ours that is in the process of harnessing its human resources for rapid economic growth. Today, we need more children in school and more of them to go on to higher education. Proper training, provisioning of skills sets and capacity building of its population are tools which shall make our human resources competent and confident to face the new set of challenges of a fast changing world…..

….While broadbasing access to education is important, one must not lose sight of the utmost importance which should be paid to the quality of education being given to students and the need for equity. This should start from the primary level itself. Government has been, therefore, emphasizing and is committed to providing good quality education to all students, especially those from the underprivileged sections. The spread of education amongst women is also very important. By spreading education amongst them, not only is an individual educated, but rather the seeds of progress of the next generation are planted.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Banana, I have wronged thee.

In an earlier post, I had, quite uncharitably, described the banana as a rather ‘pedestrian’ and unexciting fruit and, for good measure, had also quoted Robert Lynd as saying that “we eat bananas not because we like them, but because they give us less trouble than any other fruit.”.

Vikram Doctor, in an article in The Economic Times, narrates how, soon after the Wall fell in 1989, it was the lowly banana that sent East German kids into ecstasy when they sighted the fruit for the first time in their lives. Their West German brethren had been splurging on the fruit in the Wirtschaftwunder (economic miracle) years of the 50s and 60s. So it’s not surprising then that when the Wall fell, bananas were a sign of victory. A popular bumper sticker of the time had two bananas forming a D for a united Deutschland.

Note to self: Don’t ever ridicule the banana again.

Vacuous and Verbose-7

"How confident is Pooja Chopra about winning the Miss World crown? “I believe in destiny. I have done my best, and I will put my best foot forward. Plus, I believe a lot in prayers and blessings. A lot of people are praying for me, even people who don’t know me directly, as they want the crown to come back to India. So, with 1.2 billion people putting pressure on God, I think it should work,” says Pooja. (source)."

How preposterously presumptuous of this lady to believe that 1.2 billion people in India desperately want the Miss World crown to come back to India and will collectively pray for that to happen!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pyche Rajah

While reading the review of the movie, “Pazhassi Raja”, I was convinced that this was yet another pathetic attempt to glorify some nondescript ruler in a far-flung outpost of British India, as movies such as Veerapandiya Kattabomman have done before. In that Tamil movie, Sivaji Ganesan’s histrionics and delivery of dialogues had helped popularise the legend of Kattabomman. The impression the movie left one with was that Kattabomman was a fearsome firebrand who single-handedly held out against the tyranny of the British. The character of Kattabomman is, even today, held up as an outstanding example of Tamil valour and bravery.

In their despatches and records ( as an example, read pages 288-292 of “ A view of the English interests in India, and an account of the military, by Colonel William Fullerton) the British don’t sound too impressed or concerned about Kattabomman(or Catabomanaig as they referred to him). In fact, the British had a far more serious problem on their hands in the form of Tipu Sultan at that time and were more intent of getting the latter out of way.

Catabomanaig was one of the Polygars ( derived from the Tamil term Palaiyakarar, or care-taker of a Palayam) or chieftains in the area that was administered earlier by the Nayaks. The territory had passed on to the Nawab of Arcot, who unable to return a loan provided by the British, had instead granted them the right to collect taxes from the 72 palayams. Catabomanaig and a few other Polygars refused to cough up the money. The British moved in and ruthlessly knocked off the Polygars. Catabomanaig was captured later and hanged. As far as the British was concerned, he was a minor irritant and a nuisance. For them it was business-as-usual to stamp out these sporadic resistances.

But not so with Tipu Sultan and Pazhassi Raja. They were far more formidable opponents, as British records acknowledge. In his despatches, Arthur Wellesley (later to become the Duke of Wellington) refers to Pyche Rajah frequently and in a less condescending tone. From the military manoeuvres that are elaborated in great detail, it is amply evident that the British did not take the Pyche Rajah lightly or just as a minor pin-prick. Elaborate planning had to be done to counter the Rajah’s guile and guerrilla methods. One such missive from Arthur Wellesley ( Source : Page 301, Supplementary Despatches and Memoranda of Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley) goes as follows ( a longish one, but worth the read)

Bangalore 5th December 1800

To: The Commissioners in Malabar

I have to state to you the force which will be employed in this country against the Pyche Rajah, and the general plan of operations which I have recommended to Colonel Stevenson.

The force will be the 19th dragoons, the 2nd regiment of cavalry, five companies of the 12th, the 77th regiment, two battalions of Coast and two battalions of Bombay sepoys, with 14 pieces of cannon, with Bengal, Coast, and Bombay artillerymen in proportion, besides the guns attached to the two regiments of cavalry.

This force will be amply supplied with stores; and I have given orders at Seringapatam to prepare for it four small mortars with their stores, which I imagine will be found useful. It is already supplied with grain and provisions to any extent that may be required.

The plan of operations, according to which I have proposed that the Pyche Rajah should be attacked on both sides from Malabar and Mysore, is as follows. It appears now that at least we shall be able to hold our ground in Cotiote, if we should not have it in our power to do more. But when the Pyche Rajah will be pressed in Wynaad, it is probable that he will withdraw his people from Cotiote, and in that case it may be possible to push forward the roads and posts to Pereweil, and to have everything prepared for a communication with the Mysore troops in the Wynaad country as soon as these shall be sufficiently advanced. I should propose that this communication should be by the Peria Pass, as being upon the whole the most convenient and nearest to the posts in the lower country, as well as to the Rajah's colgums in Wynaad, which it will be necessary to attack.

I have proposed that the 19th dragoons and 2nd regiment of Native cavalry should be sent into the southern division of Malabar, by Coimbatoor and Paulghaut, in order to awe the rebels in that quarter, and to prevent any co-operation between them and the Pyche Rajah, which might disturb the arrangements made for his destruction.

I have given much consideration to the propositions which have been made by the different Nairs whose opinions have been taken regarding the mode of attacking the Pyche Rajah in Wynaad. It would certainly be desirable to attack him, as" they propose, on four sides at the same time, besides'the attack from Cotiote, viz., from the Tambercherry Pass, from Koorg, from Cancancottah, and from Edatera. But even if it were possible to spare a battalion from the force now in Malabar for the operations in the Tambercherry Pass, which I doubt, it would not, in my opinion, be proper to subdivide the Mysore army, whose force I have above stated, as proposed, to make the three attacks by Koorg, by Cancancottah, and by Edatera.

It must be recollected that each division would be, in fact, a separate army, and it would be necessary to provide it with a separate establishment of stores and provisions. This, if it could be supposed that each division would be in itself sufficiently strong, would take much time, and much of the season would elapse before the attack could be made.

But as there could be no concert or co-operation, and as one division would be liable to be attacked or opposed by the whole force of the Rajah, without the chance of receiving assistance from the others, I am of opinion that a third, or even half, of the army proposed for this service would in that case be exposed to the risk of being cut off. I have recommended to Colonel Stevenson, therefore, not to divide his army until he is better acquainted with the nature of the Wynaad country, with the force of the enemy, and his mode of warfare, than I have been able to make him.

Having decided then that the army should not be divided, the next question is, on what line it should advance into the country, as proposed, in one body. I have recommended to Colonel Stevenson to throw a post into Cancancottah, and proceed from thence to Edatera. I have preferred this line to the former, and to that by Koorg, although that by Cancancottah leads more directly to the seat of the Rajah's government and to his principal colgum, because I perceive by all accounts that the possession of this colgum would not give us any great advantages, nor would not deprive the Rajah of any of his means or resources for carrying on the war.

The road from Edatera to the Tambercherry Ghaut is more open, and better than that from Cancancottah; and the possession of that road by the posts which will be established on it will cut off the Rajah from the southern districts of Wynaad, and from his friends in the southern division in Malabar, and will give confidence to the friends of Yeman Nair, whose influence, it appears, is most prevalent in the districts to the southward of the great road to Tambercherry.

I have recommended that a post may be established at Edatera, and one at Lakerycotta, or in such other situation on the Tambercherry Ghaut as may be preferred. Thus the communication between the army and Calicut will be kept open, and that of the Pyche Rajah with Goorkul impeded.

After Colonel Stevenson will have got possession of the great road to Tambercherry, and the friendly Nairs will have commenced their operations to the southward, I have recommended that he should push forward to the seat of the Rajah's government, or to his colgum, in as many divisions as he may think proper, upon a consideration of the nature of the country through which he will have to pass, the opposition made to him, and a review of the effect which his operations may have produced. I have strongly recommended it to him, however, to beware of breaking up his force, and particularly not to send out detachments of troops with baggage till he is well acquainted with the strength of the enemy.

I have desired him to open a road of communication between the posts of Wynaad and those below the Ghauts as soon as that measure will be practicable.

These are the outlines of the'plan which I have recommended to Colonel Stevenson, and the grounds upon which I have formed my opinion.

Arthur Wellesley.

I haven’t seen the movie. “Pazhassi Raja”, nor do I intend seeing it, but let me admit that my presumption about the disproportionate glorification of the Raja was wrong. His story ( as I have made out through my armchair research on Google Books) is indeed worth telling.

Vacuous and Verbose-6

A self-confessed Tendulkar fan, Ms. Mangeshkar said she wants the veteran right-hander to win the 2011 World Cup for India. (source)

“I want Sachin to win the 2011 World Cup. Not only that, I wish he continues as long as he is playing well, hopefully at least for the next 10 years. He has a lot of cricket left in him,” said the Bharat Ratna recipient.

Ms. Mangeshkar said she gets upset every time there is speculation about Tendulkar’s retirement.

“I don’t know why people start talking about his retirement despite the fact that he is playing so well. I don’t like any criticism directed at Sachin. People go after him if he fails to score once in a while. Even I sometimes sing songs which don’t do well, does that mean I should retire?” she asked.

No less a cricket expert than Ms. Mangeshkar has now certified that Sachin has a lot of cricket left in him. Now, if no less a music expert than Sachin would kindly return the compliments and certify that Ms Mangeshkar has a lot of singing left in her, then the circuit will be complete.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fishermen, don't venture into the sea

The Govt of Tamilnadu, I understand, has cautioned fishermen not to venture into the sea, in view of the inclement weather.

Ever since I can remember, issuing this statement is the first and often the only piece of action from the government whenever a low-pressure area forms in the Bay of Bengal. The government, after all, has to demonstrate that it is alert to any danger and needs to make appropriate announcements to show that it is in full administrative control. And, as per standard operating procedure, it immediately asks fishermen not to venture into the sea. Once this is done, it feels that it has discharged its full duty.

To be honest, I haven’t seen evidence of the government or a bureaucrat actually telling the fishermen not to venture into the sea. I am going only by what the papers tell me. In fact I suspect that the government doesn’t even issue such a statement. Why it gets reported thus is perhaps because the newspapers strongly believe that, whenever there is a storm brewing, the readers would expect to be informed that fishermen have been asked not to venture into the sea. The readers don’t care if the fishermen have actually been warned not to venture into the sea, but they feel that the newspapers ought to tell them so. This is a long unbroken tradition that is solemnly followed and respected by the newspapers and the readers.

In fact, if newspapers fail to report that fishermen have been asked not to venture into the sea, nobody would believe that it is raining , even when there is a cyclonic storm lashing. It can’t be raining, the reader would assert. Where is the news item that fishermen have been asked not to venture into the sea?

Conversely, when there is bright sunshine, if a mischievous reporter were to plant a story that the government had asked fishermen not to venture into the sea, the readers would, in a Pavlovian response, stay at home convinced that there was heavy rain outside.

The fishermen, oblivious to this drama, use their own judgement to decide whether they should venture into the sea or not. If they sense that it is going to rain, they don’t venture into the sea, not because the government has asked them not to, but because they feel that the public will not visit the fish market believing that there will not be any fresh catch, as newspapers had reported that fishermen had been asked not to venture into the sea.

Update 13/11/09 : Usha has forwarded this story:

"The Blackfeet asked their Chief in autumn, if the winter was going to be cold or not. Not really knowing the answer, the chief replies that the winter was going to be cold and that the members of the village were to collect wood to be prepared.

Being a good leader, he then went to the nearest phone booth and called the National Weather Service and asked, "Is this winter to be cold?"

The man on the phone responded, "This winter was going to be quite cold indeed."

So the Chief went back to speed up his people to collect even more wood to be prepared.

A week later he called the National Weather Service again, "Is it going to be a very cold winter?"

"Yes," the man replied, "its going to be a very cold winter."

So the Chief goes back to his people and orders them to go and find
every scrap of wood they can find. Two weeks later he calls the National Weather Service again and asks "Are you absolutely sure, that the winter is going to be very cold?"

"Absolutely" the man replies, "the Blackfeet are collecting wood like crazy!"

Operation Opera

Complete the following sentence:

"If India wants to enter the league of civilised nations, it must ……….."

Chances are that you filled in the words, “ ensure drinking water for all its citizens” or “ build good roads”, or “ provide reliable power supply in all parts of the country” or “ aim at 100% literacy” and so on.

I am sorry to be the one to break the news that even if we miraculously managed to achieve all these, we still will not make it to the big league. According to Marat Bisengaliev, a man from Kazakhstan, here is what it takes to be counted right up there (source):

"If India wants to be perceived as one of the civilised big powers, they have to have other attributes of a big, global economy—an opera house, a symphony orchestra, a ballet troupe, schools for classical music and dance. We have to find ways to make it possible"

The good news is that Bisengaliev is already in Mumbai with the objective of creating the first Indian professional symphony orchestra. Once he accomplishes that, he will give each one of us a badge that will say that we are citizens of a big, civilised country. Keep some space on your sleeve. And watch this space for more such insights.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The angry young man

Have I suddenly turned more intelligent this weekend, or has the entire world turned more stupid? I seem to find some stupidity in every article that I have been reading.

Here, for instance, is Bobilli Vijay Kumar writing in the sports section of the TOI:

"How many times has Sachin Tendulkar played second fiddle to his emotions on the cricket field? How many times has he allowed his anger to sneak into your sitting room during the course of a match? Probably never.

On Thursday night, in front of a packed stadium in Hyderabad, however, he showed that he was human too: after diving forward to catch Cameron White, off the last ball of Australia's innings, he slammed the ball into the ground and walked away in a huff.

Instantly, you knew that somebody was going to be at the receiving end that night; that something special was cooking in his ageing willow."

It is clear that this Bobilli Vijay Kumar has been fed a staple diet of a particular genre of Hindi movies ( titles such as Deewar, Zanjeer, Sholay come instantly to mind) that glorifies the angry young man. According to this genre, once the spark of anger is lit, as when one’s sister has been molested, no power on earth can stop the said angry young man from extracting his revenge. Single-mindedly and single-handedly he can take on an entire army of thugs and villains who are equipped with guns, grenades and tanks. Yes, his terrible anger is enough to cause him to carry out fantastic feats.

So, when Tendulkar looked angry, Bobilli knew instantly that the Aussies were going to be slaughtered that night. A terrible fate awaited them, for Hell hath no fury like a Sachin angered.

Will someone known to Bobbili ( I am hoping that the theory of six degrees of separation is true and he can be reached) din it into his head that anger is the last emotion a batsman wants to be in the grip of while going out to bat, and is exactly the emotion your opponent wants you to be in the grip of? Losing one’s cool can be a brief and momentary episode, but a good sportsman has to quickly regain his composure. Anger affects one’s concentration and makes him do foolish things. And Sachin has not amassed 17000 runs without knowing this simple truth.

In fact I was so angry with Bobilli for insulting Sachin in this manner that I knew instantly that he was going to be at the receiving end of my post today. Take that, Bobilli.


In her regular column in the Times of India, Shobhaa De writes:

"Today, the 94-year-old Mumbaikar ( M.F.Husain) wants to come home. The same home he was forced to flee four years ago. He has been living in exile, tormented by the thought he may never set foot in the land of his birth again. Isn't it time we showed enough grace, courage, courtesy... just plain and simple 'tameez'... by welcoming him back to his motherland? Yes, the very same 'Bharatmata' he stands accused of having desecrated?

….the prolific artist graduated from painting film hoardings to putting India on the international map as its foremost contemporary artist. His horses galloped across the world, breaking records and he himself became the desi art world's most powerful brand.

…What did he have to gain by inviting trouble - big trouble? He has been hugely successful for decades, he doesn't need publicity stunts to sell his works. Nor is he dumb enough to offend people deliberately and not be aware of the consequences."

In my regular column in Plus Ultra, I make the following observations now:

1) If M.F.Husain says he is returning to his Bharatmata, he will pacify the Hindu fundamentalists, but will invite the provisions of the Islamic fatwa that says that reference to nation as mother is unIslamic. Hussain would do well to ponder over this fire- frying pan equation.

2) By what stretch of imagination can one describe Hussain’s art as desi art? He has developed his own individual style that has found acceptance. Good for him.

3) It did not require Hussain to put India on the international map. I distinctly remember seeing India on a world map in one of my geography lessons in the 7th standard, many decades back.

4) When his nude horses galloped across the world, there were no protests at all. Only when nude goddesses figured in his art, there were howls of protest. This distinction must be clear.

5) If my memory serves me right, Husain was not banished from the country by the Govt. He made his own assessment of the risks of staying here and chose to move to Dubai. And he is not exactly holed out in a desert there or moving around in a camel. Why should I be burdened by the guilt of keeping an old man from his humble home?

6) Husain may be hugely successful, but that doesn’t mean that he does not need to resort to publicity stunts. Any book, movie or piece of art (or blog) has to ‘provoke’ to be noticed, and authors/directors/artists constantly test the frontiers. The line between freedom of expression and its misuse is a hazy one. The artist may want an unqualified licence, while the Bajrang Dal may have zero tolerance. Only the Court can decide if that line has been crossed or not.

The simple point that needs to be made is that as an Indian citizen, Husain has a right to stay here and if there is a threat to his life, enjoy the protection of law. But if some aggrieved person follows the right legal process and brings charges of defamation, Husain has to face those charges and defend himself. He cannot seek immunity or cry foul. Nor should Shobhaa De.

Not that either of them is obliged to follow my advice.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Turn honest when you write your memoirs

Prem Panicker links to an extract from Agassi’s book, “Open” and exclaims,

"(This) is an example of the sort of searing honesty that is so rare in the self-serving hagiographies that take up so much space on the shelves. Read, again, the passages headlined 1977 and ask yourselves this: Could you have gone through that experience and not been broken by it? Could you have survived, let alone triumphed? And then, when there really is no need for you to do it – could you have viewed your past life with such blinding clarity and painful honesty?"

He also quotes from an article by his friend, Rohit Brijnath, who has pretty much said the same thing:

"His book is a mea culpa, yes, an admission of guilt about recreational drug-taking in 1997 and lies to the tennis authorities. His game then was disintegrating — at one point he played eight events and won a single match. Was the drug an indulgence, an escape? Make your choice, but his honesty deserves respect. We cannot understand sport unless its heroes reveal its insides to us."

The point being made by both the writers is that Agassi being a super-rich guy did not have the need to resort to any ‘sales gimmick’ to increase the sale of his book. And nobody would have come to know about his murky past had he chosen to remain silent.. It takes a lot of courage to reveal something that can tarnish your reputation forever. That he still came out with a confession on his own shows that he is extremely honest. QED.

I find this argument extremely stupid. Calling Agassi honest because he has chosen to reveal all on his own now is like saying that Ramalinga Raju was a paragon of virtue because he confessed voluntarily and owned up to his misdeeds.

Agassi’s troubled childhood may explain why he took to drugs. But that can’t be used as an extenuating factor to justify his dishonesty or to evoke sympathy.

If we glorify this belated act of confession, the moral of the story will be that we are allowed to indulge in all kinds of dishonest acts till the age of 40. We can always wipe the slate clean, at the age of 50, by revealing all in our memoirs.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Vacuous and Verbose-5

"One cannot go by statistics alone. No ground is good or bad. We have to play to our potential and the results will come along," Dhoni said

With the series tantalisingly poised 2-2, Dhoni said every match was important for the outcome of the series. "When it became 1-1, I said it's like a five-game series. Now we can see it as a three-game series. Every game is important now. It's important not to have an off day.

It's not about targeting a bowler. We have to see which bowler is bowling well and do accordingly," (Dhoni) said. "For us it's more about what we can do and achieve rather than target a bowler," he added.

India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni blamed his batsmen for their four-run loss to Australia in the opening One-Day International cricket match, but said they will bounce back in the seven-match series. "We have to work a bit on our bowling but our batsmen need to bat.”

So, ladies and gentlemen, revealed here for the first time is the amazing Dhoni formula for winning matches. "Our batsmen must bat, our bowlers must bowl, our fielders must field and our wicket-keeper must keep wickets."

Monday, November 02, 2009

Ban on kites

“Kite-flying in Chennai is now a non-bailable offence” reported the media last week, leading to speculation if the Taliban had made inroads into this part of the world. Thankfully, today’s TOI reports “After the Chennai Kite Manufacturers and Sellers Association (CKMSA) moved the Madras high court, the city police have clarified that they will not prevent anyone from selling kites. "Action will only be taken against those selling or flying kites with maanja (thread covered with ground glass)," the police said.

On the FM radio this morning, I heard a strong protest from one of the panellists that many of the simple pleasures in life such as kite flying, bursting crackers, playing cricket on the beach are being wiped out of existence on grounds of public safety, while activities that are far more dangerous to public health and sanity face no discouragement at all. He recalled how he had spent so many of his childhood days flying kites and how he still cherishes those memories.

What is it about kite flying that evokes strong emotions? In an earlier post, I had extracted a conversation from one of Somerset Maugham’s short stories, in which two characters would try to figure out why a third character was so madly addicted to kite flying:

“What do you suppose there is in kite flying that makes the damned fool so mad about it?”

“I don’t know”, “Perhaps it gives him a sense of power as he watches it soaring towards the clouds and of mastery over the elements as he seems to bend the winds of heaven to his will. It may be that in some queer way he identifies himself with the kite flying so free and high above him, and it’s as if it were an escape from the monotony of life. It may be that in some dim, confused way it represents an ideal of freedom and adventure. And you know, when a man once gets bitten with the virus of the ideal, not all the king’s doctors and not all the king’s surgeons can rid him of it.”

Perhaps that explains.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Vacuous and Verbose-4

(A random compilation of jargon, motherhood statements and high-sounding nonsense)

"Experts from the tiger range countries have called for a collective political commitment from all levels of the government to save the animals and enhancing the capacity of the Interpol and other international agencies and enforcement networks to combat illegal trade in wildlife.

…the experts gave a clarion call for strict protection of the beast and its core breeding areas. They asked the tiger range countries to stop infrastructure projects in core breeding areas and appealed to financial institutions to avoid financing development projects that adversely affect critical habitats.

They recommended conservation and management of buffer zones and corridors that connect core breeding areas in tiger landscapes, empowering local communities in and around the landscapes with sustainable economic incentives, and appropriate technologies to minimise human-tiger conflict. Making core/critical habitats truly inviolate with incentive-driven, generous, participatory and voluntary relocation was also suggested."

( Source)

When you come across a long report such as this, you cannot but get impressed. Experts have met in a workshop, deliberated for four full days and come up with a clarion call and a set of recommendations to save the tiger.

Nobody can find fault with any of the recommendations. I mean, would you dare question the need to introduce “appropriate technologies to minimize human-tiger conflict? But when you read through the entire report, you realise that it is a lot of hot air. It doesn’t require experts to state these points. Any idiot can.

Or maybe the job of the expert is to come up with these general banalities ( or banal generalities). A small set of committed workers have to then do the detailing and solve the problem on the field.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Dinner table pep talk

INDIA SNUBS CHINA”, screamed the TV headlines in Font size 72. By way of explanation, it added in slightly smaller font size, “PM tells Chinese Premier that Dalai Lama is our honoured guest and free to travel anywhere in India”.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I see such headlines, I have this tendency to form quick mental images. The one that I formed in this instance was of our PM barging into Mr Wen Jiabao’s room in the middle of the night, shaking him by the collar, pushing the muzzle of his gun into the latter’s nose, and yelling into his ears in FONT size 72, “ THE DALAI LAMA IS OUR HONOURED GUEST. HE IS FREE TO TRAVEL TO AP, ANDHRA OR ARUNACHAL, GOT IT?”. And of a terrified Mr Jiabao nodding his head to convey surrender.

On calmer reflection, I realised that our PM was too gentle a person to attempt such heroics. Perhaps there was a better explanation.

There was. The morning newspapers quoted the PM as saying that he had sat next to Mr Jiabao during the dinner, in the course of which he had passed on this message concerning the Dalai Lama.

As nobody overheard this conversation, and as there were no interpreters sitting in between the two, we have only our PM’s version that such a conversation took place. We will never come to know the Chinese version.

As our PM is far too honest a person to claim that he had uttered something that he had not, the only explanation is that he must have done an “Aswathama’. As the Wonton soup was being served to all, and in the general noise of soups spoons hitting the sides of the bowls, and soya sauce and vinegar bottles being passed around, our PM must have slipped in the sentence in Font size 8 italics and in his muffled tone, “The Dalai Lama is our honoured guest. He is free to go to any corner of the country, by train, air or by foot”. Mr Jiabao must have heard only the last word and to continue the polite conversation, would have asked the PM, “ Did you try the foot massage here?”, which our PM would have interpreted as “ Yes, I get the message”.

On such exchanges and conversations are TV headlines and Govt press releases made.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


How did the custom of ‘raising a toast” originate? Why is it called a ‘toast’? What is the significance of the ritual of the ‘clinking’ of the glasses?

It all began with the fear of being poisoned as Joe Kissel explains.

The Phrase Finder adds a few more details on the ritual.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Vacuous and Verbose- 3

(A random compilation of jargon, motherhood statements and high-sounding nonsense)

"Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee today reviewed the safety measures in railway operations with the entire Railway Board here today. In the meeting, she categorically stated that the safety of the passengers should continue to be given top priority as safety never sleeps. She said that there should be no compromise on safety matters and any laxity on this will not be tolerated. She further pointed out that anyone found wanting on this vital aspect of railway operation will not be spared and stern action will be taken against those playing with the lives of passengers. She directed Railway Board to closely monitor all spheres of railway operations connected with the safety and hold periodical reviews on this subject." (Source).

Now that Ms Mamata has issued this stern statement, we can breathe easy. Railways will no longer compromise on the vital aspect of safety or play with the lives of passengers.

Vacuous and Verbose- 2

(A random compilation of jargon, motherhood statements and high-sounding nonsense)

Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, on the eve of his departure to Thailand for the ASEAN Summit issued the following statement:

"In pursuance of the theme of the ASEAN Summit of “Enhancing Connectivity, Empowering Peoples”, I will discuss with the ASEAN leaders new initiatives to accelerate the process of our engagement in areas such as greater economic integration, people-to-people contacts, agriculture, human resource development, education, science and technology and information and communications technology."

Is there any area left out?

Vacuous and Verbose- 1

(Beginning a new series that will provide a random selection of jargon, motherhood statements and high-sounding nonsense.. Editor)

"The fight against international terrorism cannot be successful by doing deals with terror groups for short term gains, India has said, as it asked for a comprehensive global movement against the menace. "


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nobel Prize and Noble values

Responding to reports that the Nobel Prize winner Mr Venkatraman Ramakrishnan had ‘expressed disgust at the outpouring of fan mail received by him from India, especially from Tamil Nadu, after the conferment of the Nobel’, Mr Abhishek Singhvi writes in his opinion piece in The Times of India of October 20th.

….What is deplorable is Ramakrishnan's equation and linkage of something as lofty and noble as patriotism and nationalism with something as banal and ridiculous as the clogging of his e-mail accounts and a general disgust at being troubled by his countrymen.

… Patriotism, at its core, has an intersection of noble values. … These are the values of link and affinity with a culture, a people, a territory and a national identity. It is his sentiment alone which connects India and Indians, despite this country being the greatest aggregation of diversities on this planet."

Once the old chestnuts of patriotism and nationalism are pulled out, it is impossible to argue further. From this self-righteous pedestal, the ‘patriot’ will dismiss or paint anyone who has even a remotely contradictory view as a treacherous traitor who is ungrateful to his/her mother/fatherland.

In fact, I face the risk of being branded a traitor because I referred to noble values such as patriotism and nationalism as ‘old chestnuts’

But if Mr Singhvi would cast aside his super-noble blinkers for a brief moment, he will realise that for a scientist engaged in pursuit of knowledge and truth, it is necessary to look beyond national identities. The research ecosystem has a global base and it is important that you don’t create barriers in your mind while seeking data or in assimilating the results from research carried out in some other corner of the world. Development in one’s field is dependent and closely linked to co-developments in various other fields and various other regions.

So, while Tamilnadu could claim proprietary rights over him because he was born here, or Gujarat could claim him as its own, because he did most of his studying there, Venky could respond in one of following two ways to such exuberance.

1) To come up with a lengthy statement acknowledging the role played by each one of his teachers from kindergarten onwards in shaping him, instilling the scientific spirit, motivating him for higher achievements, etc, and how proud he was to be born an Indian and a Tamilian, etc. Mr Singhvi would have loved it. I would have dismissed his statement as vacuous nonsense, even though it sounds gracious.

2) To tick the Indians off and tell them where they get off. Congratulatory messages are fine, but not ones that solely celebrate the fact of his being born here or hold this fact as being responsible for the Nobel.

He chose the second one. This gave Mr Singhvi the ammunition to shoot off an op-ed to TOI and to flaunt the patriotic badge on his sleeve. And me the material for yet another blog post to display my contrarian streak.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Product promotion

In all the episodes of “American Idol”, the camera repeatedly turns in the direction of the tall red glasses, with the logo of Coca Cola prominently displayed. Every now and then, the judges are shown casually sipping from these glasses. As this Slate article states: “The soft-drink maker is an aggressive sponsor of American Idol, not just via plain old ad time but through paid product placement—it's not a coincidence that Cowell and the other judges are constantly hoisting red Coke cups”. Subliminal advertising of this form, where product promotion is cleverly mixed with the content of the program being sponsored, is quite common.

Apparently, such manipulation happens in films as well. The admirable “Letters of Note” website has published a copy of a letter written in 1983 to actor Sylvester Stallone, on behalf of the (now defunct) tobacco company, Brown and Williamson, agreeing to pay him a sum of $500,000 for “incorporating personal usage’ of their cigarettes in scenes in five of his forthcoming films. Stallone had also conveyed his acceptance of these terms here.

More examples of ‘product placement’ can be found here. Can you think of any Indian examples?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sacred cows make the best beef.

We may hold cows as sacred (or holy), but that doesn’t stop us from being the 4th largest producer of beef (after the USA, China and Brazil), if we go by the graph provided in this site. 2.7m tons per year. No less. With rise in per capita GDP, our beef production has been steadily going up from 1963.

Restoration of interactivity

My daughter signed up for a Vodafone Plan that included an allowance of 5000 messages (sms) every month. Why this ridiculously high number, I wondered. Would any sane person be able to send around 170 messages every day?

In the first month, her message score was 4000 and by the second month she had comfortably broken the 5000-barrier. Casual conversation with some of her friends revealed that this really was no big deal.

What kind of idiocy has gripped this generation, I thought. We cannot let new-fangled technologies rule our lives.

Then I came across a link to an article that Douglas Adams had written in 1999 soon after the Internet made its presence felt. Commenting on the view that it was just another silly fad, Adams wrote:

I suppose earlier generations had to sit through all this huffing and puffing with the invention of television, the phone, cinema, radio, the car, the bicycle, printing, the wheel and so on, but you would think we would learn the way these things work, which is this:

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.

And on the specific subject of messaging (the facility had just been introduced on phones in Finland) he wrote:

“Our children, however, are doing something completely different. Risto Linturi, research fellow of the Helsinki Telephone Corporation, quoted in Wired magazine, describes the extraordinary behaviour kids in the streets of Helsinki, all carrying cellphones with messaging capabilities. They are not exchanging important business information, they’re just chattering, staying in touch. "We are herd animals," he says. "These kids are connected to their herd – they always know where it’s moving." Pervasive wireless communication, he believes will "bring us back to behaviour patterns that were natural to us and destroy behaviour patterns that were brought about by the limitations of technology."

Another interesting point that Adams made was that, for much of human history, entertainment had always been interactive (theatre, music, sports...). Twentieth century with its entertainment forms (movies, radio, TV) of the non-interactive variety was actually an aberration. Internet merely restored the interactivity.

Update : Tyler Cowen explains, in an article, that far from reducing our attention span, technologies such as the Internet help in widening it.

Delivery in 30 minutes.

The Dalai Lama is credited with these lines:

"We have bigger houses but smaller families:
We have more degrees but less sense;
more knowledge but less judgements;
more experts but more problems;
more medicines, but less healthiness.
We've been all the way to the moon and back,
but we have trouble crossing the street
to meet the new neighbour.
We build more computers
to hold more information,
to produce more copies than ever,
but we have less communication.
We have become long on quantity
but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods,
but slow digestion;
tall man, but short character;
steep profits, but shallow relationships.
It is time when there is much in the window
but nothing in the room."

I came across another profound piece of Internet wisdom today:

“We live in a society where pizza gets to your house before the police”.

My advice to you would be:

1) Don't eat fast food

2) Don't eat food. Fast.